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Papers of the Board of Longitude : Committee papers

Papers of the Board of Longitude

<p style='text-align: justify;'>Collected together in this volume are the working papers of the Board, these are the remnants that give insight into the decisions made by the Commissioners that are simply presented in a concluded form in the Confirmed Minutes. These papers capture the interactions and opinions that lead to the course of the Board's history; the confirmed minutes are useful for seeing what kind of front the Board wanted to present to the interested public, and how it took measures to defend itself from criticism, but this collection of papers show us how these men arrived at the decisions they did. They offer insight into both the opinions held by individuals as well as the negotiations and compromises that resulted in the decisions that the Board made and defended. It could be suggested that these papers were kept at the discretion of Thomas Young (see <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>portrait</a> at National Portrait Gallery), the Secretary of the Board of Longitude, but more interesting are the papers absent from this collection; the things that Young chose not to keep. In the period covered by these papers, 1784 onwards, the Board was increasingly aware of its status as a state sponsored committee and its public responsibilities and Young retained these papers to help defend the Board from its critics.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Of particular interest are the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> 1819 minutes of the Committee for Examining Instruments and Proposals (RGO 14/10:14)</a>, the Board's most significant sub-committee. Here we can gain some insight into the decision making process behind the endorsement and rejection of various schemes presented to the Board. Yet the language does remain quite formal, even the most outlandish of schemes gets a formal hearing and response, for example <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> item two in the minutes (RGO 14/10:16)</a> for the 8th of April meeting declare that 'Mr Elliot's exhibited plans for a perpetual motion were not judged to be of any importance.' You can also see in this series of papers that individual Commissioners would be called upon to examine things in detail privately, for example Davies Gilbert [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] produced a <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> report on Mr North's tables' (RGO 14/10:15)</a> the conclusions of which were approved and adopted by the rest of the sub-committee and the reports from Nevil Maskelyne [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>] regarding various schemes were similarly implemented including his <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> 'Remarks on 's petition' (RGO 14/10:238)</a>.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The remaining papers of several other subcommittees are found in this volume, for example the Tonnage Committee, set up in 1821 to discuss the most effective way of measuring a ship's tonnage. In this collection we can see the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> 'Rules for Measuring a Ship' (RGO 14/10:75)</a> that go into great mathematical detail and include <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> several diagrams (RGO 14/10:90)</a>. There are also the calculations done by Nicholas Robilliard on various <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> naval and merchant ships (RGO 14/10:110)</a> and the supporting correspondence between Nicholas Robilliard, Robert Seppings [<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''><img title="Link to RMG" alt='RMG icon' class='nmm_icon' src='/images/general/nmm_small.png'/></a>], Davies Gilbert and Thomas Young regarding the <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage();return false;'> establishment of this standard method of computation (RGO 14/10:43)</a>. There are also the papers from the 1824 glass plate production collaboration between the Board and the Royal Society as well as the papers from a Royal Society inquiry into a 1793 gas explosion and the state of the reservoir belonging to the Gas Light Company. It is interesting to consider why the papers of these sub-committees, and not others, survive. The Board perhaps kept these papers as they involved commissioning work from those outside their circle. A record was kept of all the Board's dealings with outsiders whilst the minutes of the Board's most significant internal sub-committee, the Committee for Examining Instruments and Proposals, once absorbed into the Confirmed Minutes are no longer of use and are therefore absent from the committee papers in this volume.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Sophie Waring<br />History and Philosophy of Science<br />University of Cambridge<br /></p>

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